There was no harder worker than Morpeth Harriers Senior Men’s Team Manager David Swinburne last week, for his superb efforts in ensuring his club managed to take their place amongst the starting 68 clubs, in the annual ERRA National 12 Stage Road Relays, held at Sutton Park, Sutton Coldfield, on Saturday 6th April 2019.
At the beginning of the week, it certainly looked that Swinburne would be able to call upon a strong squad, who in all fairness, would have probably commanded a top ten placing, and would not be far adrift of the medals,
which would go to the first three clubs.
By the end of the week however, he was very much to the roots of his possible squad, due to key athletes being forced out by various reasons, some by unfortunate injury problems.
The situation led to him having to ask for some of his charges to run the longer 5.38mile leg,
when they would normally be more suited to the shorter 3.16mile distance.
Swinburne rightfully opted for fielding his strongest available over the earlier legs, and it was Northern Cross Country Silver medallist Carl Avery, who got the weakened Morpeth squad off to the brightest of starts, as he came home in seventh place, and only fifteen seconds adrift of early pacesetters and event leaders Thames Valley Harriers, with his clocking of 26m09s over the opening long leg.
On the shorter second leg, Morpeth’s George Lowry made excellent progress, by not only clocking an individual (15m38s), fifth fastest of the leg, but also getting his club into a medal place, by climbing four places.
It was at this point that Morpeth introduced 12 Stage debutant Rory Leonard into the fray.
Leonard, who only seven days ago was competing for Great Britain’s Under 20 Men’s squad in Aarhus in the World Cross Country Championships, certainly did himself and his club proud, as he got round the third long stage in a time of 26m59s, which was the tenth fastest time of the leg, only losing out a place to a faster finishing Cardiff runner.
Liverpool Harriers, who had grabbed the lead on leg two, had now established a ten second lead over Cardiff, with Bedford slipping back to third place, but only a mere twenty seconds ahead of Morpeth.
On the short fourth leg, Cardiff managed to grab a lead of thirty-five seconds over Liverpool, whilst Morpeth’s Joe Armstrong (16m00s), managed to just outsprint Bedford, to reclaim third spot, if only by a mere second.
The long fifth leg brought some really competitive running to the front end, with Cardiff still maintaining a lead, now over a rejuvenated Bedford, Liverpool, and Highgate and Leeds City now coming into the picture for the first time, and just slightly adrift of the medals.
Meanwhile Morpeth had now slipped back to twelfth, courtesy of Adam Pratt,
another National 12 Stage debutant, who clocked 29m19s.
On the short sixth stage for Morpeth, was another debutant Junior in Alex Brown, who did well by getting around in the seventh fastest of the leg time of 16m06s, to gain a place to eleventh, taking his club to the halfway point in 2hrs10mins11secs, which was just under three minutes adrift of the medallist positions, with Cardiff still maintaining their lead, ahead of second placed Bedford, with Highgate in third, ahead of Liverpool, Tonbridge, and Leeds City to complete the top six placings.
Only 159 seconds divided the top six places at the end of the first half of proceedings.
Cardiff still held the lead during the long seventh leg, however it was Northern clubs Liverpool Harriers
and Leeds City now fighting out the minor medal placings, and only twelve seconds apart.
Meanwhile Morpeth’s Karl Taylor, who had not been expecting to run earlier in the week,
slipped slightly back to seventeenth, with his individual clocking of 29m15s.
Phil Winkler restored the Morpeth fortunes by climbing a couple of places on the short eighth stage,
with his excellent 16m33s.
Meanwhile at the front end of the field, matters had changed dramatically,
when Northern Relay Champions Leeds City went to the front for the first time, ahead of Liverpool,
and Aldershot and Highgate were occupying third and fourth places, ahead of Bristol and West,
who had entered the picture for the first time in fifth spot, just ahead of deposed leaders Cardiff.
On the long ninth stage, Morpeth slipped back to twenty third, with Alistair Douglass clocking 32m27s,
after volunteering to run a longer than expected distance on the day.
Meanwhile at the front end of affairs Leeds City had pulled away to a slight lead
over second placed Aldershot, with Bristol and West third.
Morpeth’s short tenth stage runner Graeme Thorpe, who had very much responded
to a very late call up by Team Manager Swinburne, he had been hoping to also
compete in the Blyth Valley 10k the following day, where there was a possibility
of a British Masters Team Medal beckoning, is to be commended for his efforts
in getting round in 18m39s, and refusing to surrender his clubs position of 23rd.
At the front end of the field, Leeds City, courtesy of Northern Cross-Country Champion Emile Cairess,
had extended their lead to just over a minute from Bristol and West, with Aldershot
having slipped back to third, a further ten seconds adrift.
On the penultimate long eleventh stage for Morpeth was Mark Snowball,
who slipped back to 24th, despite clocking 29m44s.
There was no change in team order at the front end, however Leeds City,
the Northern Champions, now had a lead of two and a half minutes going into the final leg.
The short final leg for Morpeth was run by a less than fully fit Ian Harding,
who managed to get around the course in 15m59s, seventh fastest of the leg,
which resulted in him clawing back a place to finish in a respectable 23rd place.
This gave Morpeth a total finishing time of 4hrs32mins48secs,
whilst Leeds City had taken the title in 4hrs12mins21secs, ahead of
Bristol and West 4hrs14mins33secs, who were second,
with Aldershot finishing third in 4hrs14mins39secs.
Leeds City, who on the day achieved an excellent double by taking the Women’s 4 Stage title,
won the Men’s title by establishing a new course record into the bargain.
Meanwhile Morpeth Harriers emerged as fifth Northern club,
and first North East club ahead of Gateshead Harriers (40th) 4hrs45mins53secs,
and Heaton Harriers (55th) 5hrs04mins33secs.
Tyne Bridge Harriers, who had entered the event, did not travel.